Alfa Romeo is preparing its first electric vehicle for 2022 as the smallest in a trio of SUVs intended to bring the Italian premium brand back from the brink.
The electric compact SUV, similar in size to an Audi Q2, will be crucial in reviving the firm's dwindling sales in a fast-evolving market where emissions legislation is becoming increasingly tough.
The parent company of Alfa Romeo, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has been on the back foot with electrification, which is why its ongoing merger with the EV-savvy PSA Group should reap substantial benefits.
Alfa Romeo currently offers no electrified powertrain, but early next year it will launch a mid-size SUV, the Tonale, to be offered as a plug-in hybrid.
Back in 2018, Alfa Romeo announced bold plans to bring back the 8C supercar and the GTV as a Giulia coupé. But by late last year, its strategy had been pared back to just four more mainstream models.
Once the ageing Giulietta family hatchback is retired later this year, Alfa Romeo will sell only the Giulia and Stelvio. The Tonale will be on the road in 2021, followed by the smaller, electric SUV in 2022, completing the brand's four-strong line-up.
Alfa Romeo will rely on the two smaller SUVs to ensure it achieves its goal of selling 400,000 cars annually. The firm hasn't yet announced its 2019 global figures, having been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis, but it sold 54,365 cars in Europe – a drop of more than 50% on the year before.
It's not until Alfa Romeo hits that target that enthusiasts might get what they desire: the pretty sports cars for which the brand is known. The styling of the EV won't be identical to the Tonale, according to Alfa Romeo.
A spokesman said: "A family feel will be respected – we have style themes across the range – but we don't want to do a copy and paste across the line-up, because every segment has its own personality, and customers are different in terms of age and expectations."
While the plug-in hybrid powertrain in the Tonale will use existing FCA hardware, sharing with the Jeep Renegade, it's expected that the electric Alfa Romeo will be the first FCA car to make use of the technology gained from the merger with PSA.
The EV will sit on a version of PSA's eCMP platform, on which seven zero-emissions models will be based by next year. These already include electric versions of the Peugeot 208, Peugeot 2008, Vauxhall Corsa and DS 3 Crossback.
The e-2008, of a similar size to the future Alfa Romeo EV, uses a single motor to drive its front wheels, producing 136bhp and 192lb ft of torque. A 50kWh battery pack gives it up to 192 miles of range on the WLTP test cycle.
However, the specifications of Alfa Romeo's offering will be different – due not only to how rapidly EV technology is developing but also to the brand's focus on performance.
Talking about the approach to Alfa Romeo's first EV, the spokesman said: "When we launched the Giulia and Stelvio, we were recognised as a sporty brand, because of the amazing handling. We're trying to communicate that our cars are not only sporty but can also be driven in a comfortable way – something that previously customers wouldn't expect from Alfa Romeo, to help us appeal to a larger customer base.
"For electric, we will stay consistent to Alfa Romeo's sportiness and use electric motors for a performance approach. We're looking to achieve an Alfa Romeo customer's expectations but also [those of] customers looking for comfort."
He added that Alfa Romeo sees the small SUV market as the best in which to offer an EV, saying: "The B-segment is probably the best solution for range and usage, and the recharging infrastructure will be better [by the time we launch the car]."
The spokesman continued: "We will see the evolution of the market quite quickly. We're seeing different approaches in the market – some successful, some not so. We have the opportunity to see what advances and react in the proper way."
Alfa Romeo is set to emulate some other brands that are launching EVs, such as Porsche with the Taycan, by offering artificial sounds.
The spokesman said: "The idea isn't to make fake sounds to recreate an internal combustion engine, because we won't have fake things inside Alfas. The idea is to create a specific sound to get emotion from both the driver and car. An advantage of an electric car is silence – if the customer wants to drive that way. But also the possibility of an aggressive mode."